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Technology in Agriculture, Simplified

Basics of Wifi on the Farm


We’re all becoming more reliant on internet connectivity and it’s not just the smartphones in our pockets or tablets in our hands. As more and more devices become capable of connecting to the internet (grain dryers, HVAC thermostats, barcode scanners, etc. etc.), so does the need for infrastructure to supply an internet connection. Here’s an example of expanding the reach of WiFi on the farm and a few general tips. I’m not here to sell anything related to WiFi, I just want to help others.

I wrote a couple years ago about how I did not like range extenders / repeaters / mesh networks. Many of these devices have come a long ways since then, but I still strongly prefer to further the reach of WiFi in a two step system (receiving and rebroadcasting). It’s a much more reliable way that also offers lower latency and higher speeds. In the text below, I’ll try and show this with examples of the setup on my family’s home farm.

I like to use Ubiquiti (u bick quit ee) products. They’re ultra reliable and provide great performance for the price. Many of their products are also weather resistant and still work in freezing cold or hot temps. Their products aren’t exactly the easiest to configure, but once installed and setup, Ubiquity devices require very little maintenance and adjustments. I’ve seen Ubiquiti products go many months without a power reset and still function properly.

The main thing to keep in mind with WiFi is line of sight. It is safe to assume signal won’t go through the sides of metal buildings at all. Sure Wifi will go through a few drywall walls or maybe a thinly leafed tree, but it’s a whole different ballgame going more than a couple of hundred feet. Also keep in mind, WiFi is a two way street. The source of the wifi needs to see your device as well as you see it. Most devices (laptops, smartphones, tablets, etc.) aren’t as powerful as WiFi routers.

Example Below:   (see image for guide points)
2016-01-17 17_50_27-Presentation1 - Microsoft PowerPoint non-commercial use
1.  The internet connection source and router
On top of the grain bin is a weatherproof work box. In that work box is a 110v receptacle and our  internet source (Ligtel wireless internet, a local phone company that supplies the internet connection).
Also mounted on top of the bin is a Bullet M2 access point with omni-directional antenna (example of omni antennas). This broadcasts a WiFi signal in all directions.

2.  Receiving and re-broadcasting WiFi inside climate controlled buildings
A box in the window (or preferably mounted to an outside wall) faces towards point number 1.  The Nano Station has a built-in directional antenna, it receives WiFi from the M2 on top of the bin.
Inside the house/building is a device re-broadcasting WiFi signal which is usable by any device. The device rebroadcasting singal is called an Air Gateway . Note the Air gateways are not weather resistant.

3. Receiving and re-broadcasting WiFi inside cold storage buildings (or other outdoor areas)
The same theory applies here as inside the house and shop, only we need to device that re-broadcasts WiFi to be weather resistant as well.
I’d likely recommend the PicoStation for inside cold storage warehouses. It is fully weather resistant and will hold up in most any conditions. The PicoStation comes with a small omni-directional antenna in the box.

Notes / Tips
— The devices I used offer great speeds for most applications. The only scenario I’d recommend going to the higher level 802.11 ac (extremely high speed) products, is if I was going to put up multiple high definition security cameras and a nvr recorder (or other brands of ip internet cameras), or  frequently transfer extremely large files over the network.
— NanoStation factory mounting options: wall   ,   window
— Depending on the source of your internet, you may have a wifi router in the house or other place. A NanoStation pointed towards that inside router may work in some situations. Speed and reliability may be decreased some. A pair of nanostations pointed at each other would be a better option.
— I would strongly prefer the Bullet M2 has a setting called “airMAX” turned on. This provides more speed and less chance of interference, but it will mean devices like laptops and smartphones will not be able to directly connect to the bullet. Another device such as a PicoStation or Air Gateway could be added alongside the bullet to provide usable WiFi within about 300-700 ft outdoors.
— POE stands for Power over Ethernet. The same cord that carries wired internet to Ubiquiti devices also powers them. Max cord length is about 300ft.
— You’ll need a laptop with a standard wired (ethernet) connection to configure these products the first time. You’ll also need to read up on how to conifigure IP addresses, or find someone with experience in setting up computer networks.
— We ran conduit up the bin’s ladder and into the workbox for 110v power. Would recommend this be on its own breaker and grounded properly. Also, run wired ethernet cable while you’re stringing romex for easier access, just for extra convenience for possible setting changes should something on the wireless end get messed up.
— If your internet source comes in wireless, make sure to consult them about what frequency range they’re using. The Ubiquity products are also available in 5ghz (M5, nano station m5, etc) for broadcasting and receiving signal outside. 5ghz is the best way to go for outdoor links in most scenarios now.
— 2c… notice the shrub and tree in between 2c and 1.. some light foliage can still allow a link, but it should be avoided if possible
— 3a and 3b… notice how there is perfect line of sight between these and point 1, but not much more than a couple hundred feet, if that. You’ll need to turn down the power all the way on the NanoStations on the 3a/3b ends. Too strong of a signal can actually cause issues as well.
— RoweWireless is the supplier I linked to for some of the products. I’m not getting any kickbacks of any kind for linking to them, I just thought it was nice to work with a certified dealer for easy warranty replacements and they ship fast being located nearby me.
— If you have questions, feel free to ask away in the comments below.

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